Ben Sherman clothing boss Mark Williams is proud of showing at London Fashion Week Men’s and outfitting Team GB for the Olympics.
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With its distinctive target logo, British menswear brand Ben Sherman has been an icon of London style since it was founded in the city in 1963 by Arthur Benjamin Sugarman. Boasting 18,000 doors worldwide and with UK stockists including Asos, Debenhams and Thread – the brand has extended its reach far beyond the capital, thanks to its distinctive 1960s-inspired designs.
The brand does not disclose wholesale prices. Retail prices range from £35 for a T-shirt to £195 for a suit. The brand’s signature polo shirts start at £42.
Mark Williams has been the creative director for Ben Sherman for almost five years, and has worked for the brand since 2006, when he joined as global head of menswear. He speaks to Drapers about his life with the brand and his creative inspirations.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
I have to have a cup of tea to get moving first thing, then I help my youngest get ready for school – if I’m not going for an early run.
What was your first job?
The first proper job I had once I got my National Insurance card was working in my local garden centre, building and selling lawn mowers.
It was my first experience of building a product for retail, and seeing people buy something I had produced gave me a real buzz. This love for making stuff for other people to use and enjoy has never left me.
How would you describe the brand in one sentence?
Ben Sherman is a global British lifestyle brand with a foundation in shirt making since 1963.
What’s your coffee (or tea) order?
Tea all day long – milk, one sugar, please.
Where are your favourite place to shop?
When I’m not at a Ben Sherman store, I do like Clutch Cafe [in Fitzrovia, London]. It’s great for the sort of heritage inspiration and workwear lifestyle product that I love. Every time I go in I could spend a fortune.
Last fashion purchase? Why did it catch your eye?
My latest purchase was a Polar fleece workwear jacket from J Crew in New York. It was so cold that I wanted a layering piece and stumbled upon its Polar range. I have to say it did the job and it has become a favourite in my wardrobe.
Emails or phone calls?
Always a call if possible. People that know me know I like to talk. It’s so important to have that personal contact and be able to judge the vibe of a situation.
Most important lesson you’ve learned during your career?
I think to have the confidence to go with the gut. My initial feeling or thought usually never lets me down. If it doesn’t feel right, I walk away or change direction. As soon as I do that I usually land in a better place.
What would be your ideal office/meeting space?
Somewhere calm with access to outdoor space, great light and fresh air. Ideally a countryside location, but it would need to have good wi-fi. Does such a place even exist?
What’s your favourite part of the creative process?
It changes depending on the project, but normally I really enjoy the initial conception of an idea and working with the head of design to turn it into a reality. Seeing the samples for the first time and working with them to create the brand vision will always be close to my heart.
What has been your proudest moment since you joined the brand?
There have been a few, but designing four directional, brand-building collections that were shown at London Men’s Fashion Week [the latest show was spring 2019], is definitely up there with the best of them. It showed me that I could raise the level of a commercial brand, while retaining its DNA.
What’s the last book you read?
First Man In by Ant Middleton [the former soldier, adventurer and TV presenter]. What a book! The guy’s a legend. If you’re ever having a tough time and think you can’t make it through, read this book.
I had a short break in New York with the family. I’ve been there several times, but only ever for work, and seeing the kids take in the sights for the first time was very special. Experiencing them dealing with jetlag for the first time – now that’s a different story.
Who in the fashion/retail industry inspires you?
I get inspired by friends in the industry that have either moved abroad with their families to follow their passion, or who consistently battle the status quo to ensure their vision for the brand is realised. I admire their drive, determination and relentless will to succeed.
What’s the biggest challenge facing fashion today?
Cheap, fast fashion and the excess it creates is a worrying situation that seems to be growing by the day. Fortunately, the rise of younger generations demanding more sustainable clothing and accountability for the journey the product has taken to market is starting to shift the way companies are thinking about their sourcing strategies.
One piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy the moment more. Be present – the future will take care of itself.
Who do you turn to when you need advice?
It depends on the situation. Usually my wife or closest friends. I always try to remember what my father would have said in certain situations, as he had a way of simplifying the most complex issues.
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
If I’m lucky, playing some golf on a Saturday with my pals, watching my son playing football, and having a family Sunday lunch at my mum’s.
What are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?
I’m really looking forward to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and seeing the Olympic Team GB walk out in their Ben Sherman for their opening and closing ceremony outfits. It will be a proud moment for me and the teams that have made it happen.
The man behind Ben Sherman's winning British style